Among the eight drivers entered in this year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona for Meyer Shank Racing and its sister team Heinricher Racing, only two drivers were in the same seat as last year.
Mario Farnbacher and AJ Allmendinger returned in the team’s No. 86 Acura NSX GT3, with Farnbacher once again tapped as the full-season driver and Allmendinger swapping his helmet for a headset with NBC for the remainder of the season.
Meanwhile, Trent Hindman — who with Farnbacher was crowned the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD champion — made the transition from the No. 86 to Jackie Heinricher’s No. 57 entry for the four IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup rounds this year.
Then it gets interesting.
Two of the team’s full-season drivers are making their return to the Shank camp after brief hiatuses. In the No. 57, Alvaro Parente will be back behind the wheel of MSR machinery for the first time since 2018. In the No. 86, it’s 2019 WeatherTech Championship LMP2 champion Matt McMurry alongside Farnbacher.
“It’s great to be joining Meyer Shank Racing again,” said McMurry, who also interned with Honda Performance Development last summer. “I raced with them back in  when they were still running prototypes. It’s great to be back with them again and with some great teammates like Mario Farnbacher.”
McMurry admits the transition from a prototype to a GT3 car is a leap, but that he’s got some help to adjust.
“There’s quite a big difference from P2 to GT, especially around a place like Sebring,” said McMurry while testing this week at Sebring International Raceway, the next stop on the WeatherTech Championship calendar next month. “This GT3 car handles the bumps quite a bit differently, so that’ll take a little bit of getting used to. But I think we’ve got a great team and great teammates to help get me up to speed quickly.”
If there’s anyone that can relate to McMurry, it’s Misha Goikhberg, one of three new drivers to join the two-car Acura team this year. Alongside his full-season co-driver Parente, Goikhberg made his GT debut at the 2020 Rolex 24 following a prototype career that has spanned the past five seasons in the WeatherTech Championship.
“It’s a team with a lot of wins, just fresh off a championship, so it’s a car that’s already very well developed,” said Goikhberg. “I think their strength is their ability to bring new people in and to get them up to speed quickly, so both me and Matt are fortunate to be able to draw upon experience from guys like Mario and Trent, who have been here for a while.
“Alvaro is very experienced, one of the best GT drivers in the world. For both of us, there’s a big body of experience there we could lean upon, and that’s been very helpful, so we’ve been very fortunate in that regard.”
The other two drivers new to Meyer Shank and Heinricher at Daytona were Shinya Michimi and Jules Gounon. While Gounon’s role was specific only to the Rolex 24, Michimi — who has a successful background in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series — continues with the No. 86 for the remaining Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.
Looking ahead to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 18-21, compatibility doesn’t seem to be an issue for the mix of the established team drivers and newcomers. The six drivers entered for next month’s race often were huddled up during their Sebring test days.
What about the relationship off the racetrack? Well, that could get interesting too.
“Thankfully, they haven’t gotten me into any big trouble yet,” McMurry joked about his new teammates. “They’re trying to, for sure. I’m sure they’ll get us to do something stupid at some point during the year, but I’ve been safe so far.”